Old William Lamshaw

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"Old" William Lamshaw, (c.1712-1798), was one of the earliest players of the Northumbrian Smallpipes of whom much is known. Besides being a celebrated piper in his own right, appointed to the post of piper to the Duchess of Northumberland after the death of Joseph Turnbull in 1775, he was the teacher of several other known pipers, and the grandfather of Young William Lamshaw, who succeeded him as piper to the Duchess.


Early life

No record of his birth has been found, but his birth date has been deduced from his recorded age at death. Birth records in Northumberland in the early years of the 18th century are patchy. In 1752, he married Elizabeth Hall, in Morpeth; he was described as 'William Lamshaw of Ponteland' in the register, meaning that he lived in that town at the time. The births of five children are recorded, including William, born in 1755, the father of Young William Lamshaw. Apart from their first born, Elizabeth, who was christened in Bedlington, their children were christened in Morpeth, suggesting that the family settled in the town. [1]

Morpeth Wait

William Lamshaw, along with Thomas Gleghorn, is named in the Morpeth Bailiff's accounts for 1764, 1765 and 1766, as one of the town Waits. This post combined the functions of town musician and town watchman, and carried some status. The livery consisted of a green coat and drab knee breeches, together with the silver badge of the Corporation worn upon the right arm. Its cost was borne by the Corporation at the cost of 13s. 4d. per annum. In nearby Alnwick, the Waits were entitled to collect an annual fee from each house, amounting to more than £30. In Morpeth, a similar arrangement may have operated, but two annual payments of 2s.6d. were made to the Waits directly by the Corporation, as well as occasional payments. When Morpeth had advertised the vacant post in 1744, the advertisement commented 'It is a place of considerable profit'. Lamshaw may have held the post until his death, for the record of his burial names him as one of the Waits. [2]

Ducal Piper

After the death of Joseph Turnbull in 1775, Lamshaw was appointed as piper to the Duchess, appearing in Ducal records from 1780 [3] and at some point after this, Thomas Bewick, the engraver, recalled: 'The late Mr Dibden, who often called upon me, had some performance to exhibit at our Theatre, & had quarrelled with the Theatrical Band, on acct of their exorbitant demands & in this dilemma, he expressed himself to me how much he felt disappointed & knew not what to do — I told him, I thought, if he would leave the matter to me, I could set all right,& instantly applied to old William Lamshaw, the Duke of Northumberland’s Piper to ask him if he thought he could engage to play at the Theatre that night; being well acquainted with the old man he readily assented—I then told my friend Dibden of what I had done, & satisfied him, as to the preference the Audience would give to the Piper — in this I was not mistaken, for all went well off & every one expressed both pleasure & surprise at the change.' [4] This account, though written some 25 years later, is the best evidence of Lamshaw's popularity as a performer during his lifetime. Eight years after his death, in 1806, he was remembered in the obituary notice for his grandson Young William Lamshaw, 'This celebrated performer on the improved small pipes, was grandson of the celebrated piper Lamshaw, of Morpeth'. [5]

Influence on later pipers

A later ducal piper, William Green, recalled, writing to the Ancient Melodies Committee of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries, that John Peacock had studied first with Old William Lamshaw, and later with Joseph Turnbull. He also wrote to them 'I never knew any other Pipes but the Northumberland small Pipes used in the Regiment. The late Mr. Cant who kept the Blue Bell publick house at Newcastle and a person whose name was Graham play'd the small Pipes in the American War, then in the French war one Lamshaw and myself whose nephew I succeeded as piper to his Grace's the old Duke of N.' [6] If Green is referring to Old William Lamshaw here, his statement that Young William Lamshaw was his nephew is an error on his part. However, an alternative reading, consistent with the known facts, is that one of Old William's sons, an uncle of Young William, was also a piper, but there is no other record of this.

Another piper said by Green to have learned from Lamshaw was William Cant, who had been postboy for Joseph Turnbull, and who was William Green's uncle. A local poet and cobbler, James Waddell of Plessey, in 1809, referred to a local vicar (unnamed by him, but elsewhere identified as Rev. Henry Cotes, of Bedlington), who played the pipes, being taught by 'Old' William Lamshaw, who was piper to the Duke of Northumberland. [7] Since Waddell also states that Cotes subsequently studied the pipes with Thomas Hair, who was still only 19 when Lamshaw died, it is plausible to argue that Hair had also been a pupil of Lamshaw, but there is no direct evidence of this.

A set of Border pipes traditionally said to have belonged to Lamshaw is in Edinburgh. [8] However, there is no hard evidence of him having owned them.

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The Northumbrian Small Pipes Society was founded in 1893, by members of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne to promote interest in, and playing of Northumbrian smallpipes, and their music. As it only continued in existence for seven years, it is now regarded primarily as a short-lived precursor to the Northumbrian Pipers' Society. However, despite its short life, it played a significant role, publishing the first tutor for the instrument, J. W. Fenwick's Instruction Book for the Northumbrian Small-Pipes (1896), holding regular meetings, and organising annual competitions. In 1894 and 1896-7, the society published Transactions, as well as publishing an account of their Annual Meeting of 1897. As well as Members, who paid an annual 5s. subscription, there was a category of Honorary Playing Members. Since the society's records include the names and addresses of all members, of either kind, they have listed the names and addresses for 37 known pipers. Two articles in the Newcastle Courant, in April 1900, gave an account of their Annual General Meeting, at the Literary and Philosophical Society, and referred to the society as flourishing, with 200 members, of whom almost half were pipers. Officers were elected for the following year; however there is no subsequent record of any formal activity of the society, such as meetings or competitions. In 1906, when the Cloughs played for King Edward VII at Alnwick Castle, an account of this in the Berwickshire News stated that the Northumbrian Small Pipes Society had done some good work in reviving interest, but that 'seven winters had passed without it giving any signs of life'. This suggests that the society had been largely inactive for some time before its final AGM.

'Young' William Lamshaw was a player of the Northumbrian Smallpipes. Despite his early death, he was a significant figure in the history of the instrument, being appointed Piper to the Duchess of Northumberland at an early age, after the death of his grandfather Old William Lamshaw. He was active at a time when keys were being added to the instrument, and one of the most prominent early players of the improved instrument. Living in North Shields, it is very likely that he would have known Robert Reid, who had settled in the town in about 1802.

William Cant (1753–1821) was a Northumbrian piper and violinist in the early part of the 19th century.

Robert Nicholson (1798–1842) was a Northumbrian piper and fiddler. He was the nephew and pupil of William Green, who was piper to the Duke of Northumberland, and was later appointed as his assistant in this role.

Cornelius Stanton was a mid-19th-century Northumbrian piper.


  1. Journal of the Northumbrian Pipers' Society, vol. 33 (2012), p. 10, Julia Say.
  2. L. Jessop, John Peacock, some facts and thoughts, Northumbrian Pipers' Society Magazine, vol. 12, p.14 (1991).
  3. "Northumbrian Pipes, Northumbrian Piper, The Dukes Pipers". Northumbrianpipes.com. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  4. Thomas Bewick, Memoir, p. 132
  5. J. Sykes, Local records, or Historical register of remarkable events, p. 224, Newcastle, 1824.
  6. Quoted by A.L. Lloyd, in introduction to Northumbrian Minstrelsy, 1965 edition
  7. Poetical Works of James Waddell, Morpeth, 1809
  8. "Set of border bagpipes with drones in a common stock". Collections.ed.ac.uk. Retrieved 20 September 2016.